Crime XXXXXXXXXV – s.18 and s.20 of the Offences Against Person Act (1861) I

The offences of wounding and causing GBH (grievous bodily harm)  are to be found in s.18 and s.20 of the Offences Against Person Act (1861). The sections read as follow: –

s.18 “Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily harm to any person, . . .  with intent, . . .  to do some . . .  grievous bodily harm to any person, or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detainer of any person, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . .  to be kept in penal servitude for life . . .”

s.20 “Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm upon any other person, either with or without any weapon or instrument, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . .  to be kept in penal servitude . . .”

Between the two, s.20 is the lesser offence and s.18 is the more serious offence and an offender if convicted under s.18 can be kept in prison for life.

The mens rea (mental element) to obtain a conviction under s.20 is as follows: –

  1. Intention
  2. Recklessness

The test to obtain a conviction under s.20 of the Offences against Person Act (1861) is subjective see R v Savage (1991).

In R v Savage (1991) the defendant threw a glass of beer at her husband’s ex-girlfriend, but the glass slipped from her hand and resulted in serious injury to the victim. The defendant was tried and convicted for maliciously causing grievous bodily harm to another under s.20 of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861). The victim appealed on the grounds that the word malicious required intent and the defendant had not intended to cause the victim the kind of harm or injury that resulted from her actions.

The trial judge had failed to inform the jury that the test to convict under s20. of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861) was subjective and the jury had to establish intent before it could convict under s20. However, given the facts it was possible to convict under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861), if the defendant could foresee that some harm would result from her actions albeit not the exact type of harm or injury that resulted. The matter was referred to the House of Lords.

The matter before the House of Lords was whether: –

  1. It was possible to substitute a s.20 conviction for a s.47 conviction when there was no intent, or the subjective test was not satisfied? The answer is yes, and it is possible to substitute a s.20 conviction with a s.47 conviction on a count of causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) when the element of intent cannot be satisfied.
  2. A conviction under s.47 simply required Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) i.e. minor injuries, bruises, cuts and wounds and proof of an assault. Silence can constitute an assault see R v Ireland (1997) and recognized psychiatric illnesses are also classed or categorized as physical injury see R v Ireland and Burstow (1997).
  3. In order to convict under.20 the defendant must foresee the consequences of his or her actions regardless of the severity of the harm or injury that resulted.

In R v Parmenter (1991) the defendant was convicted on four counts of causing grievous bodily harm to his infant son. The types of injuries included bruises, broken bones and aberrations. The judge directed the jury to convict under s.20 of the Offences Against Person Act (1861) if they believed that the defendant ought to be aware (objective) or should be aware that his actions would cause his infant son some form of injury. The jury convicted, and the defendant appealed on the grounds that in order to convict under s.20 the defendant must have foresight of the consequences (subjective) or must be aware that his actions would harm his son (subjective).

The defendant’s argument was that he did not know that the manner in which he handled his son would cause him physical injury or was unable to appreciate that his manner of handling his son would cause him physical injury.

The court held that the test to convict under s. 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act (1861) was subjective i.e. the defendant must be able to foresee the consequences of his actions and substituted the conviction for a conviction under s. 47 of the Offences Against Person Act 1861 (a lesser offence) where it sufficed that the defendant foresaw or could anticipate some form of harm.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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